There's only one "out" from Matthew's telling of the story. This "out" is, if the angel's pronouncement is not a binding prediction. Maybe Gabriel is just very peremptory. He does not ask, he tells. This interpretation still has a woman treated like a slave, a mere vessel for use by a supernatural entity.
On an earth where people still don't see what is wrong with 'slavery', the buying and selling and owning of other human beings, this raised no eyebrows. We aren't those people, so, even taking out the prophecy, it is a story that encrypts for the abuse of a woman.
She can announce afterwards that she acquiesces, but that's not the same as consent.
People hearing my refusal to go along with the phrase "Merry Christmas" have complained that I'm discarding "the message of Jesus", that this message is "Love all."
No. Jesus has no speaking parts in this scene. He could be played by a cloth-wrapped stone.
Jesus Christ had several messages. When that message is "Love thy neighbor," I can get behind that.
When that message is "Make yourself a whip and go chasing people around with it," I say, no, that's not acceptable behavior for a sane human being, that's 'assault' and 'threatening bodily harm'.
When that message is "Feed the poor and don't automatically dismiss someone asking to borrow money," I agree. Whether or not the speaker is "half god and half man" doesn't affect the validity of the idea.
And when that message is "If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison--your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters..." I say nuh-uh. That message is NOT "Love all."
I think there is a message in the nativity story, and it's the same message told by all tales that use the god-incarnates-as-a-mortal trope. I put it to you that neither Luke's nor Matthew's version conveys this well. Instead, they peddle the message "Humans are the property of a magical super-being. It can father a child and it can have that child murdered at its whims, and you have no moral grounds to object, because you are just a toy."
I can't see the joy, the merriment, inherent in that message. Let me tell another story. If you're the kind of person who would like to accept 'myth' as inspiration for living, maybe this is a better one because, while still involving "mystical" elements, it's lucid and clear with its point.
The universe is immense and impersonal. Storms flood villages out of existence and quakes smite cities to pebbles. There's a young lady, compassionate and well-educated, living in a self-governing province of an empire. She sees bad things happening to good people...
...and she says, "O Power That Governs All... I'm willing to totally trust that You know what You are doing... I just... wish I knew that You cared in the way that humans care. We could accept tragedies and trials with more strength and grace if only we were sure You had seen it through our eyes. I offer all that I was, all that I am, all I shall ever be, to Your service."...
...An angel appears. Not a 'herald' or a 'trumpeter' or a 'messenger' but a intermediate entity, an extension, of an immensely powerful being. It extends a hand of pure energy and, with a forefinger, touches her, drawing a mark or rune that looks like a tongue of flame on her forehead...
...Miriam-- She's the daughter of an Alexandrian exile, himself born of the Greek-Egyptian blood of Cleopatra of the Ptolemies, and Julius Caesar, who died 44 years before. She is engaged to Joseph of the line of David, a prestigious family that the Israelites still respect. His people will write of her in the Talmud as "whore". He will marry her because he loves her.
Their son will be the rightful Pharaoh of Egypt. Their son will be the lawful king of Israel. He will be heir to two thrones. There will be wealthy families willing to pledge their swords, and follow him into battle, and drive the foreign occupation forces from their lands, winning independence at last from these Roman parasites.
The boy is born, and grows up with strange adulation from the adults that he doesn't understand but he knows there's something they want from him. Finally, he is a young man-- they tell him, "You are the one foretold. You are the one who will lead us-- uniting Egypt and Israel against Rome at last." As much as he loves the attention, he refuses do this.
Like a prince from a far-away land, like Sidhartha Gautama five centuries before him, he becomes a monastic wanderer. He humiliates his mother's aristocratic families by begging in the market place. He annoys his father's family of powerful hereditary rabbis by not devoting himself to the Synagogue, but giving hillside speeches instead.
Miriam still loves her son. She puts offerings in the bowls of his friends, supports them secretly. Not knowing where the coins come from, her help can not be refused, but the young man still knows. He resents this assistance. When she comes to ask him to come home, to give up this life-- therefore, to be who he is not-- he drops his gaze and says, "Lady, I don't know you."
The young man's name is Immanuel. He is joined by his little brother, Joseph's son, who looks so much like Immanuel that they nickname him "Thomas" and "Didymos". It means 'The Twin'. Although Thomas comes to be at his side, he is not truly a disciple. He is there because Miriam asked him to watch over his strange elder brother. He never stops asking skeptical questions.
Another of the disciples, Judas, has been trusted with many secrets. There are tilapia taken from the Red Sea, secretly being raised, in the manner of the Egyptians, in cisterns in Jerusalem. They are used to feed the poor. Judas grows jealous of Immanuel. He knows of Miriam's heritage, of Joseph's family legacy. It infuriates him that Immanuel threw his inheritance to the gutter. He goes to the governor and tells them that Immanuel is planning a revolt.
The various factions that would be free of Roman domination know this is a lie. Immanuel is a pacifist. They do not care. They simply want a figurehead. Immanuel is blocking their intentions; they want Judas. They grease the right palms. In clear violation of Jewish law, Jesus is arrested at night. His trial is held at night, also a violation of law.
The governor, Pilate, is not unfamiliar with this street-preacher. It happens to be the time of year when a criminal may be given amnesty. He offers to release the man who calls himself Immanuel bar Abba, Immanuel Son-of-the-Father.
Thomas is being held as well. When they come for the prisoner, Immanuel points. "This is the man you seek." Thomas is afraid, and desperately he wants to live. He supports Immanuel's choice to be executed, and they release "bar Abba".
When they ask Immanuel who he is, he says, "I am Iesu." He is taken out and executed with two others.
He has known love; he has known fear. He has known happiness, sorrow.
He has come to understand why a human would sacrifice themselves for another human.
Most of all, he has come to understand what it is like to be pawn of forces beyond his control or comprehension, to be an innocent wronged for no reason, to suffer the most pain a human could suffer.
His spirit is severed from its pathetic vessel, and released from the burden of being a mortal. It returns like a stream to the ocean, rejoining with that from which it came.
Thomas survives. He is in deep anguish, and guilt. He has been succored, he has been given a reprieve, he has been redeemed, not from sin, but from an arbitrary disaster, one more mishap that can befall people without just cause. He lives but he lives in terrible guilt.
He takes a stake and drives it into his foot. He pulls it out, and does the other. Then his hands. Finally, a wound to his flank. He suffers, an echo of what Immanuel suffered. Then, he takes off his old clothes, and puts on the rough-spun undyed cloth like his brother wore. There is unrest in the streets; some factions would rise up against the Romans.
The other disciples know that the one who was executed was Immanuel. Word has gone out that Immanuel was killed despite being ordered released. They suspect a conspiracy. They are ready to abandon the creed of non-violence that their leader upheld. Their plans to join the revolution are only stopped by Immanuel's apparent re-appearance, urging them to peace. Thomas travels to the other temples and tells them, "Forgive the Romans. They didn't know."
St. Thomas travels south, to Egypt, then to the eastern part of Sheba, then to western India. He brings with him traditions from the Egyptian Arian Coptics, and a Hebrew mystical sect, the Essenes. In Kerala, he founds the Nasrani, the Syrian Christians.